DENVER — In a back-and-forth contest, the Denver Pioneers and Brown Bears battled to a 3-3 tie in front of 5,702 at Magness Arena. Three times, Brown battled back after Denver had taken a lead.
“The disappointing part was our play without the puck,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “Our play with the puck was a little bit above average, but our play without the puck was abysmal. Our D-zone and backcheck coverage was the worst that I’ve seen it in a long time, probably since the middle of October. Brown played really well. They outplayed us, and I think they out-competed us, especially in the third.”
Denver came out with a lot of jump, and dominated the first half of the period. After drawing an early power-play chance, Joey LaLeggia quickly put the hosts up when he snuck in from the left point and lifted a quick wrist shot near side corner past Tyler Steel at just 2:26 of the first.
However, back-to-back Denver penalties let Brown back in the game. Though Denver killed the first, on the second Matt Lorito got the puck in the right side corner and got a quick pass off to Nick Lappin in the right circle. Lappin was turning as he got the puck and used his momentum to lift the shot right off the pass past Sam Brittain to the top left corner at 9:57.
“We’re a pretty resilient team,” said Brown coach Brendan Whittet. “We’ve only played 12 prior to tonight, but we’ve had some pretty good comebacks. It’s a group that’s been through a lot over the last few years. Like you said, we responded pretty well. We don’t get too high or too low; we just keep playing the game.”
In the second period, Denver regrouped, and used momentum from consecutive power-play chances to reclaim the lead. After failing to capitalize on the first chance, on the second a few minutes later, LaLeggia passed it to David Makowski at the right point, and Makowski one-timed a slap shot top shelf stick side at 9:07.
On the next shift, Denver had sustained pressure, keeping the puck pinned in the offensive zone for about a minute, but the Pioneers were unable to get the two-goal lead.
Brown came out much stronger in the third, outshooting Denver 19-5 in the period, and back-to-back Denver penalties once again allowed the Bears to tie it. Matt Naclerio took a shot from the right circle that eluded a screened Brittain at 6:52.
“I think I take responsibility for how bad our penalty kill was tonight; it’s the worst I think I’ve seen it since our first couple of games,” said Montgomery. “Our rotations weren’t good, our communications were poor. I guess I should have spent two days on that instead of just one this week.”
While the Brown goal was being announced on the PA, Denver took the lead back with the first even-strength goal of the game. Emil Romig’s check along the right side boards forced a turnover, and the puck came to Nick Neville at the point. He let fly a slap shot that Steel stopped, but the rebound came to Romig at the right circle, and his quick shot beat Steel near side at 7:42.
Just a few minutes later, Brown tied it once again with its own even-strength goal. Lappin broke the puck out along the right side boards and sent a cross-ice pass to Lorito on the left side boards near the blue line. Lorito spied a streaking Naclerio in the slot, and Naclerio tipped Lorito’s pass over Brittain at 11:11. It was Lorito’s third assist of the game.
“I thought we played a great third period,” said Whittet. “I thought it was indicative of our response after we played an OK second period. We didn’t get discouraged, and we have some guys that are good offensively.”
Brown got another power-play chance with just over two minutes left, but couldn’t convert, despite a few furious flurries. Denver too had a golden chance to end it in regulation, as after Ty Loney got out of the penalty box, he streaked into the zone and got a pass from LaLeggia, but he couldn’t lift it over Steel’s leg from the left side of the crease.
In the OT, Brown had an early chance for the win when they broke in two-on-one off a Denver turnover, but Garnet Hathaway’s quick wrist shot hit the post.
“It was a good play,” said Whittet. “We had a chance, and it’s just the nature of the game. Sometimes the pipes help you, and sometimes they hurt you.”
Denver had a good chance when Gabe Levin tipped Josiah Didier’s shot out of midair, but Steel made a quick glove save. Denver called timeout after that. Before the faceoff could occur, Brown also called timeout. Both teams looked visibly gassed through much of the OT. Denver was without two regular starters, Quentin Shore and Will Butcher, who are at the World Juniors.
“With Butchie and Q. Shore going to the World Juniors, they are clearly there for a reason, and they are part of the nucleus of players that we rely on to do great things for us,” said Montgomery. “Some players have to play more minutes, but that’s just an excuse. We are used to the altitude, Brown’s not, Brown outshot us 19-5 in the third period. Give credit to them; again, we weren’t good enough.”
Though it got neither team points, they did have a shootout at the end of the overtime. Lorito scored on the first try for Brown, pulling to his left and then dragging the puck in with one hand on the right a la Peter Forsberg. That was the only goal scored in the shootout. Denver’s best chance came when LaLeggia hit the left post.
“It’s fun for the guys,” said Whittet. “I don’t think they quite understood because I didn’t tell them before that we agreed to that. We don’t have shootouts in the ECAC. It was a fun thing for them, and it was a great goal by Lorito.”